The Board of Supervisors Tuesday will hold its initial public hearing on a proposal to cap individual campaign contributions to local candidates in any election at $20,000.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, joined by Supervisor Chuck Washington, first introduced the proposal in August, and in the last three months, the Office of County Counsel has worked to finetune Ordinance No. 963, which would establish firm parameters on the amounts that can be donated to candidates for assessor-clerk recorder, auditor-controller, county supervisor, district attorney, sheriff and treasurer-tax collector.
The proposal points to the need for “transparency” and equity, mainly for candidates who are “facing deep pockets opponents” and are in need of a level playing field, financially, to compete.
The $20,000 cap would apply to all individual contributions in a general, primary, recall or other election cycle. However, exemptions would be permitted for candidates who contribute to their own campaign.
For instance, the ordinance would permit a candidate to loan himself or herself up to $100,000 per election, but in doing so, the loan recipient’s opponent would be entitled to accept an equal amount in funding to ensure parity, according to the proposal.
Post-election contributions, of any size, would also be allowed — but only to the extent necessary to amortize the “net debts outstanding from the election.”
The proposed ordinance further specifies that all individual contributions in excess of $1,000 would be subject to instant documentation and presentation on the Office of the Registrar of Voters’ portal for transparency, adhering to the California Political Reform Act of 1974.
So-called “independent” expenditures by outside organizations in support of a candidate would not be impacted or controlled by the ordinance.
Political action committees, unions, corporations and similar large organized donor groups generating and paying for their own advertisements and promotions are shielded from contribution limits under the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v FEC, which was decided in 2010 based on free speech grounds.
Jeffries saw the need for a campaign contribution ordinance in response to Assembly Bill 571, which was signed into law by the governor in October 2019 and takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Under the law, counties and cities that do not have campaign contribution limits on their books by that date will be required to operate under the default standards set by the state.
Under the state benchmark, the maximum individual contribution for a local candidate would be $4,700 — the same individual limit that currently applies to candidates for state Assembly and Senate.
“Riverside County is currently one of over 40 counties in California that has no campaign contribution limits, but will be subject to the state rules if the board does not pass an ordinance before Jan. 1,” according to a statement released by Jeffries’ office in August. “The new state law makes it clear that adopting an ordinance that simply continues the policy of no limits is not acceptable.”
Jeffries, with Washington’s concurrence, did not believe the $4,700 individual limit was realistic.
The proposed ordinance will be subject to at least one additional public hearing if it is approved Tuesday.